On the heels of his season-ending loss, 18-year-old Connor McDavid was seen in a tweet hugging his father, a solemn end to his junior hockey career. McDavid was the best player in the Ontario Hockey League – heck, the whole Canadian Hockey League – and now, he’s on to bigger things.
If anything though, that tweet shows that McDavid is indeed just 18.
This week in Cambridge, Ont., at the Manulife LPGA Classic, another Canadian born in 1997 is making her own headlines, and drawing comparisons to the phenom that is McDavid, beyond their ages and nationality.
To see Brooke Henderson play golf is to see greatness, personified.
You could easily make the same argument about watching McDavid play hockey.
The stories have been plentiful on McDavid. He was “born to play hockey” and has earned a reputation from media pundits and fans alike as a “generational superstar.” Skating by the time he was three, hockey was life. Life was hockey.
But that timeline holds true for Henderson and golf. The teenager also started playing her sport at age three, when she first swung a club. She played her first competitive tournament at nine. Golf was life. Life was golf.
At age 14, she did something exceptional – she became the youngest person ever to win a professional golf tournament, nipping Lydia Ko – a phenom in her own right, the LPGA’s No. 1-ranked golfer at 18 – by two months. And McDavid, well, he became the fourth player granted exceptional status to the OHL.
Without full status on any tour this year, Henderson has had to make the most of the offers that have come across her plate from sponsors, and the opportunities she makes for herself.
She is allowed six sponsor’s exemptions this year on the LPGA Tour, and can try to “Monday qualify” for as many as she likes. One of those exemptions comes this week at the Manulife, where Henderson will tee it up for the first time as a professional on Canadian soil.
“It’s going to be exciting. I have lots of friends and family coming down from Smiths Falls for it. All over Ontario and all over Canada really, people have become fans, and I really appreciate that,” she says.
Not lost on her is the awe-factor of being a professional golfer. She’s still a teenager, after all.
“Being able to travel week-to-week, learning about myself, experiencing new things. It’s all really cool,” she explains. Henderson says she is grateful for the exemptions she’s gotten so far this season, and it’s all happening while most of her classmates at Smiths Falls District Collegiate are finishing up their Grade 12 years.
While McDavid was quoted over the weekend saying he got straight-As in school, and didn’t want to “live to be that typical jock stereotype,” Henderson had similar educational success. Her father is a retired teacher, and Henderson had a foot in the door at the University of Florida before deciding to turn professional.
Her former vice-principal at Smiths Falls District Collegiate told SCOREGolf Magazine that if he had a school full of Brookes, he wouldn’t have much to do.
Kraig Kann, chief communications officer of the LPGA Tour, is already echoing those kind of statements, even though Henderson isn’t yet a member.
“I think in one word, I would say impressed,” says Kann. “She’s liked by the other players and respected for her game. She’s making the most of her opportunities. She’s going to be a star in this game, and you could make the argument that she already has some star qualities.”
There is one major difference between McDavid and Henderson, though.
Some Edmonton Oilers faithful have dubbed McDavid “McJesus,” and he has the weight of a city on his shoulders.
Meanwhile, Henderson, it seems, is holding the weight of a nation. It was announced Sunday she would represent Canada during the golf portion of the Pan Am Games in July.
“She could be bigger for women’s golf in general than just for the LPGA,” says Kann. “It’s great for the entire country. It could help Canada potentially grow great golfers.”
Despite not knowing McDavid, Henderson agrees there are similarities between high-level competitors, especially on the mental side.
“There’s a lot of things that are similar,” she says. “Mentally, if you’re an athlete or anyone performing at a high level, it’s easy to have certain connections with people.”
When asked if she still enjoys golf as much now that it’s her job, she answers without hesitation.
“Definitely. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love it,” she states. “I love being out here every single day and working hard.”
Fellow Canadian professional Alena Sharp, who at 34 is twice Henderson’s age, said last week the young professional was amazing.
“She just comes out, doesn’t have a lot of knowledge of the courses and she’s just killing it,” Sharp said. “She’s always got the pedal down. She’s aggressive and she doesn’t let people get in her way.”
Sounds like something you’d hear about McDavid.
Athletic greatness is usually divided into three stages – rushed, witnessed and remembered.
McDavid and Henderson are somewhere just beyond Step 1, sneaking into Step 2.
Compare and contrast all you want, but this could be one of those Lou Marsh Award arguments that goes on for a generation. There’s no denying that both are firmly in the spotlight, despite unproven success at the highest level in their sport.
They’re just kids. But sometimes, kids have the most fun.
And watching greatness unfold is exactly that.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Henderson: Oct. 9, 1997
McDavid: Jan. 13, 1997
Henderson: Smiths Falls, Ont.
McDavid: Richmond Hill, Ont.
Henderson: Turned professional in December 2014. Playing LPGA, Symetra, Canadian Women’s Tour
McDavid: Eligible for NHL Entry Draft
Henderson: 2014 World Amateur Team Championship in Japan (Team: Silver. Finished as low-individual). 2015 Pan Am Games
McDavid: 2013 IIHF World U18 Championship (Gold). 2014 and 2015 IIHF World U20 Championships, (4th place and Gold, respectively)
Henderson: To win professional golf tournament (14 years, 9 months, 3 days)
McDavid: One of four to be granted exceptional status to play in OHL (at 15 years old)
Henderson: Reached No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings
McDavid: Likely the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL draft.
Henderson: Oct. 5, 2014 was ‘Brooke Henderson Day’ in Smiths Falls
McDavid: Leaves the OHL as the most-decorated player of all time.